Lines to vote. I’ve waited in them. Changing voter registration. I’ve done that more times than I can remember. But this year, on the 100th anniversary of women obtaining the right to vote, I may not be able to vote. And I am the President of the League of Women Voters of Vigo County, an organization founded by the women that pushed through the ratification of the 19th Amendment.
What gives? I am not eligible to vote by mail, and the evidence is mounting that in-person voting won’t be safe.
In order to vote absentee (by mail), the state of Indiana requires that voters check one of the 12 approved reasons why you can’t vote in person, and I, like most voters, don’t meet any of those conditions. This means that if I and others like me want to vote, then we will have to do so in person, or commit perjury for lying on the absentee ballot application, or simply not vote. No, no, and no.
As we enter the fall campaign season and the COVID-19 pandemic is growing across the country, the League of Women Voters of Vigo County joins others from around the state to support expanding absentee voting to every registered Hoosier voter. In the June primary election, as the pandemic took hold across the globe, Indiana expanded absentee voting to any registered voter, no excuse needed. Going into November, all indications are that this virus will continue to spread in cities and towns across the country. Given this, the in-person voting experience (standing in cramped buildings for long stretches of time, the sharing of recycled air, touching surfaces that so many others have touched, etc.) is not in the best interest of public health. We believe that the state of Indiana should focus on ways to increase voter participation in the safest (and easiest) way possible: By mail. We also believe that this decision should be made now, not later, so that county officials have time to plan for an increase in this voting method.
Of course, expanding absentee voting has become a partisan issue. There are claims that voting by mail leads to voter fraud. It doesn’t. There are claims that one party is advantaged with this method of voting. It isn’t. Sure, there might be an example here or there, but researchers have studied these issues, and arguments against voting by mail simply don’t hold water when studied empirically with data.
It is often argued that voting is a civic duty and nothing should stop one from doing it. But, there are a host of ways that states and county governments disenfranchise voters: Purging of voter rolls, targeted closures of voting locations so as to encourage long lines and suppress turnout, and strict voter registration requirements, just to name a few in our recent history. As we head into the 2020 elections in the wake of a global pandemic, let’s not make limited access to absentee voting another such example.
So, Hoosiers, it is time for us all to rise to the occasion. Join the League of Women Voters of Vigo County in contacting our state leaders and let them know that we want No Excuse Absentee Voting in the November elections. This decision rests in the hands of Secretary of State Lawson (firstname.lastname@example.org), the Indiana Election Commission (email@example.com), and Governor Holcomb.
Carly Schmitt, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Indiana State University in addition to her volunteer role with the local League of Women Voters.